‘Tis the season to be perpetually beachside and on a sun-soaked vacation—or so say Instagram and Facebook this time of year.
Each year as the height of summer approaches, several of my clients describe feeling “stuck,” disappointed that their summers aren’t as happy as they’d hoped. One of my clients, who I’ll refer to as Chris, complained his recent financial strain would mean he’d miss the opportunity to enjoy his usual beach house share. Another client— I’ll call her Leslie— noticed an overwhelming number of couples canoodling at concerts and couldn’t stop herself from saying that “summer as a single woman is depressing.”
The ability to look at other people’s #Summerlovin photos may heighten your distress. Rest assured, you are hardly alone in grappling with “summer sadness.” From keeping the kids busy to dealing with the sweltering heat, summer casts its own shadows of day-to-day stress just like all other seasons of the year. The filters of social media create a different, and sometimes demoralizing, story. We spot just a few photos of a vineyard wedding, Hampton’s hangout, South of France escape, or a rooftop party and find jealousy lingering.
Why not stave off a fear of missing out on other people’s plans by creating grand ones of your own—both personal and professional. Maybe it’s time to finally tackle that DIY project, reinstate family dinners or clean out your closet. Knowing that you are actively pursuing self-nurturing goals will make glitzy frivolities on Facebook seem much less important and less enviable by comparison. Here are some tips to stay mindful and actually enjoy what summer has to offer you:
1. Keep Perspective
Remember, what you “see” on social media is, in most cases, a meticulously curated portrayal of your friends’ lavish escapades. Remember that no one is posting about their most recently bounced check, the frustrations of job hunting, parenting headaches, or relationship problems. You are seeing only the most flattering moments they choose to share— and you, too, have moments worth chronicling and savoring. If you find social media surfing drowns you in self-pity, close your laptop, power down your smartphone, and dive into the pursuits and people that enrich you.
2. Don’t Compare, Give Thanks
Happy friends and fun-loving strangers present us with so much fodder for social comparison. It can be a challenge to disengage from the instinct to compare what we do and don’t have and, in doing so, to feel unsatisfied with our own lives. One way to combat this slippery slope is to instead make conscious efforts to be grateful. When you find yourself feeling envious, make a list or meditate on the many things in your life that make you fortunate—your health, relationships, work that fulfills you, enriching hobbies, whatever brings you joy. Being fully aware of how full your life is with things you value will take the edge off any envy or disappointment that might arise.
3. Take Charge
“Summer sadness” can arise from the feeling of exclusion, or the perception that people are having “so much fun” while we sit stuck. Sometimes, all it takes is a little proactive energy to create the kind of “fun” that you otherwise just passively observe and crave.
Make the best of the sun season by spending quality time with the people you care about right in your own neighborhood. Even if you’ve never been inclined towards hosting, planning your own gatherings can be an empowering way to fill your life with the kinds of meaningful connections and activities that bring you the most satisfaction.
If you’re strapped for funds, consider very low-budget ideas that aren’t diminished in the fun department by any means. Potluck dinner parties, board game picnics in the park, a movie at your home, even just an afternoon at a local beach or an afternoon walk through a free street fair— all are opportunities to curate joy.
Instead of feeling sad you’re not rushing to the airport or beach house, use your summer Fridays to take up a new hobby or nurturing an existing one. Goals are great ways to enliven a monotonous routine and learn or improve a skill.
4. Fill Your Time with Meaning
You may not be able to afford an extravagant month-long excursion through South America or in an ashram in India, but opportunities abound in all of our communities to devote our time to meaningful causes. If you find yourself frustrated by a limited range of opportunities to explore this summer, consider finding a volunteer organization that speaks to you. Contributing can feel more rewarding than weeks spent baking on a beach.
5. Act Courageous
Sometimes we let pride get in the way of asking for what we’d most want. If you do happen upon evidence of a friend having a blast somewhere you’d really like to be, consider reaching out to him or her and asking to join. The answer could be no, but you’ll never know unless you reach out. Going after opportunities—even just a bit of weekend fun—is certainly better than sulking in the shade.
Jennifer Taitz is a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City. She is the author of End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop Healthy Relationship to Food. Visit her website drjennytaitz.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.